Falcons wide receiver Taylor Gabriel signals a first down during the second half against the Cowboys at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on November 12 in Atlanta.
Photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Falcons’ Gabriel: Third down improvement easy to explain

And it doesn’t have much to do with offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian.

In converting 65.9 percent during the team’s three-game winning streak, players have been playing better. There it is, in a nutshell.

“We’ve put more of an emphasis on it. I would just say being more prepared for the looks, and going out there and executing. Simple as that,” Gabriel said. “I just feel like throughout the week we’ve put more of an emphasis on it and the plan’s been working.”

Third downs figure to be bigger than usual Sunday when the Falcons (7-4) take on the Vikings (9-2) in Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Atlanta now leads the NFL with a 48.09 percent conversion rate on third downs, where Minnesota ranks No. 1 in third-down defense (28.47 percent) just ahead of the Eagles (28.57).

“It’s going to be a fantastic match-up,” Falcons head coach Dan Quinn said. “Lots of strengths on strengths, and two physical teams ready to go.” 

The Falcons passed on 11 third downs against Tampa Bay, and quarterback Matt Ryan during the three-game winning streak has been especially proficient on all downs while completing 73.6 percent of his passes for 727 yards, five touchdowns and one interception.

While some theorists feel that Sarkisian has been better at dialing up plays, especially when the Falcons were good on 11 of 14 third downs in last Sunday’s 34-20 win over the Bucs, Gabriel’s not buying that notion.

“I feel like Sark week in and week out his preparation has been the same, and he’s been the same person,” Gabriel said. “Now, it’s just us going out there and executing it. I wouldn’t say it’s anything that Sark’s doing differently. We’re just going out there and executing it.”

Everybody is contributing.

Quinn’s looking for help when the Vikings face third downs on Sunday. Minnesota is the NFL offensively in converting (45.64 percent), where Atlanta’s defense is No. 16 against (39.13 percent).

“Living here, in this state, where football is big from Pop Warner to high school to college and pro ball, we’ve got excellent football fans so they know the importance of getting here early and making it really loud on third down,” the coach said. “We’re pumped to see them.”

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